Author Ruth Haley Barton says one of the deepest longings of the human heart is to be known and loved unconditionally. Because I believe this, the greatest gift I could bestow on another person would be to give them the power to fully comprehend that God loves them unconditionally. Last week I shared with you why I sometimes struggle with the simple idea that God does, in fact, love me unconditionally. This week I want to share how I live with an assurance and how I KNOW that I am loved by God, regardless of my messy life.
The starting place where I discovered I am loved by God is when I had a spiritual encounter with Jesus, and God became my Heavenly Father. I became a child of God when I acknowledged my sin and accepted Christ’s death on the cross as the payment for my sin. The assurance of God’s forgiveness enabled me to believe I was forgiven by Him. But, I had one BIG problem; after I repented of my sins, I left that encounter with God and SINNED AGAIN. Then I questioned His love for me.
In the church where I attended as a child, the implied message I heard was that God loved me as long as I was a good boy. My sin separated me from God and changed His view of me and our relationship as well. I believed because my sin ticked God off, I was no longer loved by Him, which jeopardized my relationship as His son. I lived in fear that one day I would sin, the rapture would occur, and I would go straight to hell. I did not understand that our sin does impact our fellowship with God which causes us to feel alienated from God, but it does not change our relationship with God. The alienation we feel is our shame knowing we have crossed the sin line which negatively impacts our perception of God’s view of us.
To change my distorted view of God’s love for me, I needed more than a theological encounter with God at the cross. I needed to know or experience God’s love in my heart. In the Old Testament one of the words for “know” is the Hebrew word, yada, which means “to know” or “to share a loving sexual experience that occurs between a married couple.” The first example of yada is found in Genesis 4 where Adam knew [yada] his wife Eve, and she conceived and bore Cain and knew [yada] his wife again, and she bore Abel. The NIV rendering of that verse is, “Adam made love to his wife Eve, and she became pregnant and gave birth to Cain. Later she gave birth to his brother Abel.” Here we see a very intimate kind of knowledge that engages the body, soul, and spirit between two people.
My perception of God’s love for me changed when I had spiritual, yada, experiences that moved me from a theological knowledge to a spiritual (yada) reality. Encountering God’s forgiveness of my sin is one thing, but experiencing His healing grace from the baggage of my past and the pain of my present is quite another.
One of those spiritual yada experiences was when I was serving as the Lead Pastor of a church in Cuyahoga Falls, and I was alone in prayer. That Friday evening through tears, I had a healing experience, and the reality of God’s love for me broke through. I have needed more than that one healing experience because I have more areas of my life that need God’s healing touch. But, it was the beginning of the opening of my heart to embrace the love of God, FOR ME.
Perhaps the inspiration behind the old hymn, “In the Garden,” written by Austin Miles, will better clarify my point.
One day in March 1912, Miles picked up his Bible and it fell open to John, chapter 20, the story of Mary’s coming to the garden to visit the tomb of Jesus. As she looked into the tomb her heart sank because he wasn’t there. When Jesus, standing nearby, spoke to her she recognized Him and her heart leaped for joy!
As I read those words, I was pondering how Mary’s pain blinded her to Christ’s presence, although Jesus was right there in the Garden with her. Jesus met her in the place where she was experiencing her brokenness as symbolized by the tomb. In that moment Jesus called her name, and Mary experienced a yada moment that changed her life forever.
Miles recalls it was as though he was present with them in the garden witnessing the wonderful event. He thought, “This is not an experience limited to a happening almost 2,000 years ago. It is the daily companionship with the Lord that makes up the Christian’s life.”
Wow! I agree with Austin Miles. Jesus will meet you in your point of pain and call your name, and you too will never be the same. I don’t know the source of your pain that hinders you from experiencing God’s love for you, but I do know God will reveal it to you when you address the brokenness of your life and let him heal those places. It’s in those yada moments that you can truly KNOW how much He loves you.